Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
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Genre: Biography, Music
Beethoven was a revolutionary man living in a revolutionary time. He captured his inner voice—demons and all—and the spirit of his time, and in doing so, created a body of music the likes of which no one had ever before imagined. "An artist must never stand still," he once said. A virtuoso at the keyboard, Beethoven used the piano as his personal musical laboratory, and the piano sonata became, more than any other genre of music, a place where he could experiment with harmony, motivic development, the contextual use of form, and, most important, his developing view of music as a self-expressive art.
Pushing the Piano to Its Limit and Beyond
Spanning the length of his compositional career, Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas provide a window into his personal musical development, and they show the concept of the piano as an instrument and the piano sonata as a genre undergoing an extraordinary evolution.
The sonatas are not simply compositions for the piano, but are about the developing technology of the piano itself, an evolving instrument that Beethoven pushed to its limits and then beyond, ultimately writing music for an idealized piano that didn't come into existence until some 40 years after his death.
An Engaging and Exhilarating Professor
As in his previous courses, Professor Greenberg combines his perceptive analyses of musical excerpts with historical anecdotes, metaphors, and humor. He shows what goes on inside a musical composition: how it came to be written, how it works, and how—as is often the case with Beethoven—it may break all the rules to achieve a new and powerful effect. This course is somewhat technical and although musical knowledge is helpful, it is not necessary.
Popular, Experimental, Revolutionary, Shocking
Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas include some of his most popular works as well as some of his most experimental. This course touches on every one of these fascinating pieces, approaching them chronologically, from the terse and powerful first sonata of 1795 to the revolutionary Hammerklavier Sonata of 1818 and the radical last three sonatas of 1820–1822.
In addition to the Hammerklavier, you will explore in detail the other sonatas that, by virtue of their popularity or other special qualities, have been bestowed with evocative nicknames. These include:
Pathétique (Piano Sonata no. 8 in C Minor, op. 13): The modern popularity of this piece has obscured its shocking originality, which led a contemporary to characterize Beethoven's work as "lots of crazy stuff."
Funeral March (Piano Sonata no. 12 in A-Flat, op. 26): Beethoven's first 11 piano sonatas challenged and eventually broke the bonds of the 18th-century Classical style. In this work, he fully embraced a genuinely experimental, avant-garde approach to the sonata.
Moonlight (Piano Sonata no. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, op. 27, no. 2): The composer Hector Berlioz wrote that the haunting first movement of this famous work is "one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify."
Tempest (Piano Sonata no. 17 in D Minor, op. 31, no. 2): Although Shakespeare's The Tempest reportedly inspired this sonata, the thematic parallels between the two works are elusive. But like the title of Shakespeare's play, Beethoven's sonata must qualify as one of the most expressively "tempestuous" in the repertoire.
Farewell (Piano Sonata no. 26 in E-Flat, op. 81a): Also known as Les Adieux and Das Lebewohl, this programmatic work commemorates the departure from and return to Vienna of Beethoven's close friend Archduke Rudolph.
Not all of Beethoven's greatest piano sonatas have nicknames. The last three are conventionally known by their opus numbers—109, 110, and 111—and are among Beethoven's most pathbreaking works.
01. Beethoven and the Piano
02. Homage to Mozart
03. The Grand Sonata, Part 1
04. The Grand Sonata, Part 2
05. Meaning and Metaphor
06. The Striking and Subversive, Op. 10 Continued
07. The Pathétique and the Sublime
08. The Opus 14 Sonatas
09. Motives, Bach and a Farewell to the 18th Century
10. A Genre Redefined
11. Sonata quasi una fantasia—The Moonlight
12. Lesser Siblings and a Pastoral Interlude
13. The Tempest
14. A Quartet of Sonatas
15. The Waldstein and the Heroic Style
16. The Appassionata and the Heroic Style
17. They Deserve Better, Part 1
18. They Deserve Better, Part 2
19. The Farewell Sonata
20. Experiments in a Dark Time
21. The Hammerklavier, Part 1
22. The Hammerklavier, Part 2
23. In a World of His Own